Making the stitch, and cleaning up: Couple finds success with sew and vac shop
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Gammill long-arm sewing machines with 12-foot wide tables can make serious quilters drool.
But you can’t find them just anywhere.
Local sewing enthusiasts would likely assume a road trip to Seattle, Portland or Spokane would be necessary to see, test and purchase one of these sewing superstars.
They would be pleasantly surprised to discover the only dealer with the quilter’s dream machine in stock in Washington and most of Oregon is here in Wenatchee at Andrew’s Sew and Vac, 136 N. Chelan Ave.
That didn’t happen by accident.
“We visited the Gammill, Inc. headquarters in West Plains, Mo., and met the founder, Mr. Gammill, himself,” said Andrew Weaver, who, along with his wife, Michelle, owns the successful sewing and vacuum store. “If I have something that needs attention, I simply call the company president’s cell phone and talk directly with him.”
That kind of manufacturer’s support is unheard of in today’s age, but it’s one of the criteria for the Weavers when they decide what brands to carry in their store.
“Good support from the manufacturer is a huge advantage to our business,” Michelle said. “Our second criteria for brand selection is high quality. We want to carry quality products we can stand by.”
These two basic principles have been the formula for success of this young business that has turned a profit since it opened. In only two years, the Weavers have outgrown their business space; when they move their store to a larger location after the beginning of the year, they will more than double their space.
“Business just exploded from the day we opened,” Andrew said. “We’ve been profitable since the first week. We started with less than 40 sewing machines and vacuums in stock, and now have over 200 and a lot more accessories.”
Andrew has been fixing broken sewing machines on the side his entire adult life. He started with an ad in the Yellow Pages for sewing machine repair. After putting in regular hours at a day job, he would pick up the broken machine at a customer’s house, fix it and return it to the house.
“To me every machine is a challenge, and I love solving puzzles,” he said. “I’m really detail oriented.”
Andrew’s desire to be his own boss was strong, so he quit the security of his “real” job in advertising.
“It was very exciting to leave our regular jobs and start a business of our own,” he said.
The couple’s decision to strike out on their own was calculated.
“We knew the demand was there, we just didn’t know how long it would take to become viable,” Andrew said. “When we started the business, I already had a good reputation with a lot of customers and they were excited when we opened.”
Local sewing enthusiasts have been grateful ever since.
“My friends and I in the embroidery/quilting community are thrilled that Andrew’s Sew and Vac has joined us here in the valley,” said Kay Graybill of East Wenatchee. “Going in to his store and seeing all of his products — it’s like eye candy for us.”
The new business opened in 2010 in a tiny corner of the leased space while the rest of the space was being remodeled. With such limited space, the Weavers had to be selective in what they could stock.
“For vacuum bags and belts, I ordered one of everything that was moderately popular,” Andrew said. “The warehouse is in Portland, and I can get almost any part I need within a week. Customers would often look all over town for what they needed, and they’d find it here. “
As the remodeling work was completed, the business inventory grew.
Today Andrew’s vacuum product lines include Miele, Simplicity, Royal, Hoover, Dyson and Oreck. The business’s sewing product lines include Janome, Brother, Pfaff, Simplicity and Gammill.
High profit margins are often pitched by manufacturers, and the business constantly gets calls promising such.
“That pitch does not appeal to us,” Andrew said. “High profit margins don’t attract us. We don’t live in an isolated world. It’s a global economy. In a globally competitive market, there are many places that people can buy from, including the Internet.”
It takes time and effort for the business to stay away from undesirable manufacturers.
“We spend a lot of time going to trade shows and interacting with owners of similar businesses,” Andrew said. “We find out what manufacturers are good to work with and the ones who aren’t.”
Over the long haul, the customer that purchased a machine with a high profit margin often doesn’t feel like they got a good deal, he said. The person that bought the more expensive machine at the manufacturing level is probably going to be more satisfied with it because it will likely be better made.
“We’re drawn to the products that are built well, and when people buy them and are satisfied with them, they tell their friends,” Andrew said. “It has a smaller profit margin for us, but we sell more of them because of customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth advertising.”
Jim and Betty Bristow own the Big Y Café near Peshastin, and they exemplify that premise.
“Andrew’s Sew and Vac provided our restaurant with the best vacuum we’ve ever had,” Jim said. “We were very happy with the price of the vacuum, and we also know their service and repair is excellent. We would definitely recommend Andrew’s for any vacuum needs.”
Although the cliché may be overused, the Weavers agree — you get the quality you pay for. And that also goes for knowledge of product.
“One of the things that’s different from a big box store is here we have the in-depth knowledge of product,” Andrew said. “If you go into a business and talk to a salesperson who really knows what they’re doing, you can save a lot of time, and, most likely, you’ll end up with a better product.”
Andrew’s Sew and Vac has carpet on the floor and will take the time to let a customer test each vacuum. It also has sewing machines set up so customers can personally sit down and test them. The store features racks of sewing and embroidering CDs and DVDs as well as anything creative minds may need for their craft.
The business has outgrown its current 2,500-square-foot location, so it’s expanding and moving to 731 N. Chelan — the former location of Nancy’s Party Rentals.
“We’re moving into a space at that has 6,000 square feet,” Andrew said. “We’re hoping to move in January.”
Customers can expect larger displays of all sewing machines, vacuums and all associated parts and supplies. The increased floor space will also allow for a sewing classroom as well as more eye candy for Graybill and her friends.
“You can be certain sewing enthusiasts are all looking forward to shopping the new store,” she said.
The Weavers genuinely hold their customers in high regard.
“Our sewing and quilting customers are the backbone of our country,” Andrew said. “They may spend weeks or months building a quilt often just to give it away. It’s truly a gift from the heart.”
Because of that compassion, Andrew’s Sew and Vac graciously lends a hand where needed.
“We’ll donate the use of our machines to put the charity quilts together, because not many quilters have a $30,000 quilting machine in their house,” Andrew said. “We do, and we feel good about being able to help. Our customers really are the finest people around.”